The FCS season and playoff bracket are back to normal. Tailgating and full stadiums and a 24-team bracket, oh my.
The subdivision is all about crowning a true national champion. Every week, games impact the evolving playoff picture as teams build out their playoff resume worthy of a seed or an at-large bid on a messy bubble.
Let’s take a look at the most important game of every week in the 2021 season when it comes to playoff implications.
Austin Peay at Chattanooga
Austin Peay looks like the favorite to win the OVC title, while Chattanooga will be a contender in the SoCon. The Mocs very well could win their league, considering they started the spring season 3-0 before resting their starters in a loss to Mercer and then opting out.
A win in this Week 1 game is a resume booster for the teams and their conferences, especially if APSU and/or UTC finish second in their standings and are on the playoff bubble.
Northern Iowa at Sacramento State
In what will most likely be a ranked matchup, this game is huge for two teams with playoff aspirations. UNI plays Iowa State the week before, and Sac State plays Cal the week after. Two losses three weeks into the season is rough, especially as members of two power conferences.
Games like these are also important for the playoff committee when evaluating the strength of conferences. If, for example, UNI beats Sac State and goes on to finish fourth in the MVFC while the Hornets finished third in the Big Sky, and the final spot in the playoff field is between the No. 5 MVFC team or No. 5 Big Sky team, these non-conference games are data points for the committee to form an opinion on who deserves that last spot.
James Madison at Weber State
JMU should be ranked in the Top 4 heading into the season. Weber State should be somewhere in the Top 10. This is the top non-conference game in 2021 and a rematch of the 2017 quarterfinals and 2019 semifinals.
JMU will be on a mission to return to Frisco. The Wildcats are still looking to get over the hump and reach a national title game.
Here are Weber State’s home records from the spring of 2021 going back to 2015: 3-1, 8-0, 6-1, 5-1, 4-1, 4-1. If they beat JMU, that causes a massive shakeup in the seeding discussion
Sam Houston at Central Arkansas
The WAC-ASUN Challenge provides us with some juicy matchups, although we’ve seen this one before in the Southland. SHSU is the defending national champs, UCA seems poised as a program to win some playoff games, and Jacksonville State is a consistent postseason presence.
UCA, the 2019 Southland co-champions that did not participate in the spring season, will be the top threat to the Bearkats.
Jacksonville State at Kennesaw State
Imagine saying this a few years ago: It’s far from a guarantee that JSU or KSU will make the playoff bracket. Right now, JSU looks like the third-best team in the WAC-ASUN Challenge/AQ7 standings behind SHSU and UCA. Kennesaw looks like the third-best team in the Big South behind Monmouth and North Carolina A&T.
Will either of these two conferences get three teams into the bracket? If so, the winner of this game may end up getting the nod.
Southeastern Louisiana at Nicholls
The Southland is down to six teams as five programs bolted to the new WAC and ASUN conferences. SLU and Nicholls are two quality teams that made the 2019 playoffs, both winning a first-round game.
When they met in the spring, SLU won a 52-45 shootout. It will be another electric game this fall. The chances of the Southland getting an at-large bid isn’t high, so the auto-bid and lone playoff spot could be decided in this game.
North Dakota at Southern Illinois
UND and SIU made the quarterfinals this spring, a breakthrough season for both programs. That comes with big expectations for the fall, but just making it back to the playoffs will be a challenge.
The MVFC got five teams in the spring’s 16-team playoff bracket. While it would seem plausible for the Valley to get five teams in the 2021 24-team bracket, it’s far from a guarantee with the AQ7 taking an auto-bid and teams like Montana, Montana State, Sac State, and UCA back in the mix. Between SDSU, Missouri State, UND, NDSU, SIU, and UNI, the conference will have six strong teams battling for four, maybe five playoff bids.
UND, known for road struggles, has to play at Idaho State, at FBS Utah State, at SIU, at Mo State, and at SDSU. The UND game is sandwiched between tough road trips for SIU at SDSU and UNI. This is a key game that will greatly impact the playoff outlook for the loser.
James Madison at Delaware
Delaware won the CAA North division in the spring, while James Madison won the CAA South. Both teams reached the semifinals but fell short of competing in the national championship game.
The Blue Hens bust back onto the national scene and are here to stay with big names returning. JMU’s roster also remains mostly intact. The Dukes are poised to be a top title contender, and Delaware is closer than many of us thought entering the spring. Expect a battle of unbeaten CAA teams on Oct. 23.
The CAA will want a close, competitive game. Delaware and JMU should be in the discussion for playoff seeds, but a blowout either way would hurt the chances of the conference getting two seeds.
Monmouth at North Carolina A&T
Monmouth has won the last two Big South titles. Now it gets another challenger besides Kennesaw State with NC A&T joining the conference. It’s a huge boost for the league, and the Big South should now certainly get at least one at-large bid.
In recent years, NC A&T has beaten FBS opponents, beaten ranked FCS teams in non-conference play, and has won four of the five Celebration Bowls. Now we get to see how the Aggies stack up against the rest of the FCS if they finish high in the standings and make the playoffs.
North Dakota State at South Dakota State
SDSU was minutes away from winning its first FCS national championship, a banner its rival NDSU raised eight times in the 2010s. The Jacks have all the pieces returning to make it back to Frisco, and possibly win it all if Chris Oladokun gives them strong QB play. The Bison are reloading and look to prove they aren’t going anywhere as kings of the subdivision after not reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2010.
SDSU has beaten NDSU three times in the last five Dakota Marker games. With this matchup happening in November, the seeding implications are massive.
Eastern Washington at UC Davis
It’s going to be a jam-packed race for Big Sky teams to position themselves for playoff bids. The conference is good enough to get four teams in, but that also depends on what happens at the top of other leagues.
The big four in the Big Sky are Weber State, Montana, Montana State, and Eastern Washington. You also have to factor in 2019 co-champs Sac State along with UC Davis and Idaho, two teams that showed promise in the spring. This late in the season, it wouldn’t be a shocker if this matchup is a playoff elimination game for the loser.
Montana State at Montana
It’s just perfect that the best rivalry game in the FCS is played the day before the playoff bracket is revealed.
Think about the implications this game has had in recent years. The 2018 Brawl of the Wild was essentially a playoff play-in game. And the 2019 result ended up giving the Big Sky four playoff seeds.
MSU has won the last four games against its fierce rival. With a first-year head coach in Brent Vigen, the Bobcats face Montana’s best team in several years at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Buckle up for this one … the Big Sky title and a high playoff seed will likely be on the line.
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